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Full text of "Address by Hon. Zebulon B. Vance, at the Guilford battle ground, May 4, 1889"

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Hon. Zebulon B, Vance, 

A'l- THK 

Guilford Battle Ground, 

MPLY 4, 1889. 

Keeoe & Elain, Prinleis. 


Hon. Zebulon B, Vance, 


Guilford Battle Ground, 

MRY 4, 1889. 

Reece & Elain, Printers. 



Ladies ariif Gcntlcitien: 

I congratulate this audience on the pleasant surround- 
ings. I regret that my health has not allowed me to 
prepare a more elaborate address; but I have never yet 
failed to respond when called on by the people of North 
Carolina, and I am here to do what I can to assist in the 
Celebration of the Battle of Guilford Court House. 
[Great applause greeted this, after which the Senator 
proceeded as follows]: 

From time immemorial that portion of the human race 
which has left any record of its actions has indulged the 
practice of commemorating the notable events of its his- 
tory. The method by which this was done was a good 
test of their civilization. In Genesis it is recorded that 
Jacob took the stone upon which his head had rested, 
whilst the wondrous vision was displayed to him, of the 
angels ascending and descending, and erected it as a 
memorial pillar. Again, when the Lord appeared to 
Jacob when he came out of the Padan-aram and blessed 
him and renewed the promises which had been made 
unto Abraham. Jacob set up a pillar of stone in the place 
as a memorial, and called it "Bethel." Twelve stones 
were likewise set up in commemoration of the crossing 
of the river Jordan by the tribes dry shod. The sacred 
record is full of this method of perpetuating the memory 
of noted events by the priests, prophets and people of 
the Jews. The As.syrians and the Egyptians did like- 
wise — but in a more elaborate manner. In fact, almost 
the only record bj' which we trace the history of the East 
is by deciphering the inscriptions upon their monuments 
and memorial structures. So enduring as monuments are 
the great pyramids that mankind has almost forgotten 
the purpose for which they were erected and by whom. 

on a pile of stones? Or clo the great lawyers to whose 
acumen we are indebted for the chief liberties of our peo- 
ple need our care? For themselves — no, but for our- 
selves, to show our gratitude and appreciation, to remind 
us we, too, can make our lives sublime — yes. Their 
great achievements are their monuments, for. verily, 
" their works do follow them ;" and an\' shafts we may 
erect are rather ours than theirs. They testify, not so 
much of their deeds, as what lives in our hearts. The 
philosophy of this is found in the explanation of the wise 
and witt)- Cato, the Censor, who said that he had rather 
have the stranger ask why he had no statue, than to ask 
wdiy he had one. In the walls of St. Paul is inserted a 
tablet, on which is written the name of Sir C'hristopher 
Wren, its architect, with the words underneath, "Lector 
si monumentum requiris circumspice." The imposing 
structure reaching upward with all its lines of beauty and 
strength, was his monument. 

Should the inquiry be made, what was done at this 
spot in 1781? and where is the monument of results to 
commemorate it, the answer might well be made in the 
single word, " Circumspice." Beyond question the foLui- 
dation of American liberty was laid on this spot on that 
noted day in March, 1781. A brief and philosophical 
consideration of the military situation of these colonies, 
and of the events which immediately preceded and fol- 
lowed the struggle here, will satisfy anyone that the im- 
portance of that day's work is not over-rated by this 

The British armies having failed of success ainong the 
northern portion of the colonies, owing to the skill and 
vigilance of Washington, the attention of their com- 
mander was directed to the Southern department. There, 
it was believed that, owing to the hold which the British 
already had upon the country, its widely scattered 

population and the noted loyalty of a considerable por- 
tion of it, the prospect of final success was much better 
than in an_\' other quarter. With a picked and veteran 
force, therefore. Lord Cornwallis began his celebrated 
march from Charleston through South Carolina and North 
Carolina into Virginia. He calculated upon embodying 
the loyal element wherever he went, and encouraging it 
to join him and swell his forces. This was reasonable, 
after the shameful disaster at Camden, and to a great ex- 
tent this expectation was justified by large numbers of 
loyalists joining him in South Carolina, whilst quite a 
number either did, or attempted, the same in North Caro- 
lina. But his presence and proclamations were two- 
edged weapons; the\' not onl}' called out the tory ele- 
ment, but roused and brought to arms every patriotic 
Whig in the regions through which he marched. These 
alone proved more than sufficient to deal with their coun- 
tr_\-men who took sides with the British. 

The first great seriou.s check which his hitherto trium- 
phant advance had received was at King's Mountain in 
October, 17S0. Preceding his advance into North Caro- 
lina, Cornwallis had sent Major Ferguson with a battal- 
ion of regular troops to call out and embody all the Tory 
element of the western part of the two Carolinas. This 
he did with considerable success, and incorporated with 
his own forces a large number of volunteers. But the 
effort to do so had alarnied the Whigs of the mountains 
of North Carolina and Virginia. These gallant frontiers- 
men sprang up as by magic, and crossing the great Iron 
and Yellow Mountains from the valleys of the Holston 
and Nolichucky, assembled in the valley of the Catawba 
and made their final arrangements to dispose of Ferguson 
and his Tories. Advancing by forced marches, receiving 
recruits at every step, their array became so formidable 
that FerjTuson took the alarm and retreated to King's 


Mountain, vainly imagining that the raw militia from the 
wiUiorness wouhl not dare to attack him there. ]5ut lit- 
tle did he know of the spirit of these men. Like a 
mountain avalanche they swept onward after their prey, 
and like an eagle, when found, they seized it, in defiance 
of all military rules, in its own chosen position of 
strength. Authors, orators and military critics have 
ilwelt alike e.xhaustively upon the wondrous feat of arms, 
its timely importance to the patriotic cause and its unex- 
ampled heroism. There is little concerning it which re- 
mains to be said. 

To me, it appears impossible for language to over- 
estimate its importance or to do adequate justice to the 
courage, audacity and war-like skill which enabled un- 
trained militia, without artillery, without bayonets, with- 
out even discipline, with simply hunting rifles and inade- 
quate ammunition, to assault fortified mountain heights 
defended by almost equal numbers, a part of whom were 
trained veteran troops — and carry them by storm. There 
is no story in the annals of war; there is no incident told 
of the great Hannibal, or of the retreat of the Ten- 
thousand, or of the Roman legions in any part of the 
earth, which excels it for pure heroism, grim and sturdy 
courage, and as an exhibition of the true fire of war-like 
genius. I know that it is not perhaps in good taste for 
citizens of a Democratic country to boast of the blood 
which is in their veins, but I am sure I will be pardoned 
for indulging in a strain of filial pride by glorying in the 
fact that my grandfather was one of those who amidst 
smoke and fire ascended those heights on that day. 
However, perhaps I need not apologize. If it be proper 
for us to feel proud of our ancestors in the mass, it can- 
not be improper to boast of their deeds in the individual. 
The Chinese proverb well says: " To forget one's ances- 
tors is to be a brook without a source — a tree without a 

The next most serious check which was given to the 
royal advance was inflicted at the Cowpens in January, 
1781. Furious at the destruction of Ferguson's com- 
mand, Cornvvallis hurried forward to retrieve the disaster, 
with the celebrated and hitherto invincible calvary com- 
mander. Colonel Tarlton, with a considerable force of 
splendid troops. He was met at the Cowpens by General 
Morgan with a large force of the patriotic militia of North 
and South Carolina, many who had participated in the 
victory at King's Mountain, and was signally defeated 
with the loss of a large number of killed, wounded and 

Thus, two most important detachments of the royal 
invading army having been defeated — one being abso- 
lutely destroyed — Lord Cornwallis, being justly alarmed 
for the success of the campaign and smarting from hu- 
miliation and defeat, determined upon a prompt and ag- 
gressive advance which should subdue all opposition and 
restore all lost prestige of his army. From this time for- 
ward until fate compelled him to retreat from the State 
it is impossible to withhold from him our admiration at 
his high military qualities, as evinced by the discipline of 
his troops and the moderation of his conduct. But it 
was decreed that he should fail, and on this spot where 
we now stand, in 17S1 the finishing blow was given to all 
his prospects for subjugating the Southern Colonies, and 
which drove him to his ships at Wilmington, and finally 
to the end at Yorktown. 

From this day dates the real freedom and independence 
of North Carolina. Had he not here been successfully 
resisted — had the army of General Greene been destroyed 
as Ferguson's had been at King's Mountain, beyond all 
question the independence of these Colonies would have 
been indefinitely postponed. 

How this battle was fought and substantially won, and 


the part whicli our North Carolina ancestors took therein, 
1 will not attempt to describe to-day. It has been done 
again and again by our historians and orators, by Hawks, 
Graham, Swain and Caruthers, but never so well and 
completely done as by the honorable gentleman, David 
Schenck, who discoursed to you at your last celebration, 
and to whose untiring and patriotic exertions we are in- 
debted for these efforts to keep alive the memory of our 
libert\--loving fore-fathers. For one, I unhesitatingly ac- 
cept the conclusions of his laborious researches, and be- 
lieve them to be the truth of history. I believe that the 
regular and volunteer troops of North Carolina did their 
duty that dav as well as any men upon that field, and 
that the lines of raw, undisciplined militia did all that 
was expected of them by their commander, or all that 
could have reasonably been expected of them by an}' 
critic with sufficient military knowledge to judge of the 
capacity of such forces, so armed, against such trained 
and disciplined and perfectly armed troops. 

What then was their work.' What is the monument 
which they that day erected to themselves as seen in the 
result.' Suppose an intelligent stranger were here and 
were told to search for that monument by looking around, 
w hat would he see.' He would behold a free and inde- 
pendent commonwealth, which for more than a hundred 
vears has enjoyed the blessings of liberty, and which has 
advanced steadily without retrogression or anarchy in all 
the paths of prosperity and civilization. With fifty thou- 
sand square miles of territory, containing thirty-two mil- 
lions of acres, of which at least twenty-nine millions are 
arable and two thousand square .niles of which are in- 
land seas. This area extends east and west for six hun- 
dred milis in length with an average breadth of a 
hundred and forty. In it is found a general elevation 
from tide water to the mountain tops of si.x thousand feet. 


giving the varieties of climate which are to be found 
within twenty degrees of latitude north and south. The 
variety of productions are abundant and commensurate 
with these varieties of soil and climate. Her forests have 
always been remarkable and still are, for their great ex- 
tent and value, and the treasures within her bosom have 
barely begun to be explored and exposed. Not to men- 
tion smaller streams, this area is traversed by three thou- 
sand miles of water-courses of the dignity of rivers, 
furnishing in their gradual fall from the western high- 
lands into the sea, water-power sufficient to turn all the 
machinery of the world. This happily located land, at 
once profitable, pleasant and picturesque, containing all 
the best gifts of God to his creatures, is the home of the 
children of the men who made it free and established its 
institutions and laws with a view to the happiness of its 
people. So well did they build that after more than a 
century of trial no flaw has been found in the structure, 
no weakening, no evidence of decay. Straight forward 
it has marched, still upward it has grown, in population, 
m wealth, in intelligence, without pause or delay, save 
only in the ever memorable and ever damnable days of 
Reconstruction. In 1790 the number of our people was 
393,000; in 1880 it was 1,400,000; if the rate of increase 
which obtained from 1S70 to 1S80 be preserved, in 1S90 
our population will be at least 1,750,000, and whether it 
ma)' be a matter for boasting or a matter for regret, it is 
equally the truth this steady and healthful increase has 
been aided very little by immigration. The statistics 
show that no American State has been so little indebted 
to foreigners for either population or wealth. Emphati- 
cally our progress is our own; and whatever we may be, 
THAT we have become by oUr own efforts. Let us love 
it accordingly. The Germans say, " One's own straw is 
better than an enemy's wool," and the Latins "The smoke 
of our own country is brighter than fire abroad." 


So much do we already see of the results of their wis- 
dom and valor. But what of the things in the future 
which we do not see? What poetic vision, though reach- 
ing "far as angel's ken " can picture the future which 
awaits this people, or point out where the influence of 
the deeds done on this spot in 17S1 shall cease to affect 
their destinies? One of the most curious questions of 
metaphysics is that of the dependence of one event upon 
another. The casuists and theologians of the world have 
in all time disputed concerning its effects upon the free 
will of man and the decrees of God. The cause and ef- 
fect can be more obviously traced in the material than 
in the moral world; and yet without refining too much, 
we can reasonably trace moral effects from great events 
over vast stretches of time. In 1883 the island of Kra- 
katoa in the straits of Sunda was literally ejected from 
its place in the seas and blown into space. The effect 
was recognized in tidal disturbances upon every shore, 
more or less, where observations were made throughout 
the earth. You all remember the red skies which gave 
even additional beauty and glory to our celestial scenery 
at the settings of the sun in i883-'84? The men of science 
have now determined without dissent, that those red 
skies were directly the results of that great volcanic 
eruption which had shattered masses of obsidian of which 
the island was composed, into impalpable dust. The 
force of the explosion had hurled the obsidian dust into 
those regions of the upper air which are far beyond 
the influence of the circulation near the surface; and by 
the operation of those lofty currents of which we know 
little, it had been diffused throughout the world, causing 
the beauteous phenomena at which we so much wonder- 
ed and upon which we gazed with so much rapture. Who 
can say then what commonwealths, a thousand years 
from now, ma_\' not be inspired by oiu' example, as our 


prosperity and happiness were securetl b\- these same 
deeds of our ancestors? Who can say that the unseen 
and lofty currents of human affection may not waft and 
diffuse the ennobling lessons and inspirations emanating 
from Guilford Court House in [J<U. to t'.i j remotest quar- 
ters of the earth and to the most distant times, bright- 
ening the skies with crimson glory for many faint-hearted 
and struggling people? 

I have said that the fruit of their labors constituted 
the true monument of our ancestors; that for themselves 
no other was needed, but that others were needed for us. 
That for our own sakes we should celebrate and erect 
shafts in order to demonstrate what was in our own hearts. 
It has long been a matter of reproach that North Caro- 
lina has done so little to perpetuate in stone her Io\'e for 
her sages and heroes. The da)' when the foot of the 
first Anglo-Saxon was placed on American soil is known 
historically, but the spot where the colony of the great 
and splendid Raleigh landed is unmarked by a single 
memento. This genesis of the mightiest revelation in 
the history of nations, was upon North Carolina soil, yet 
we have left neglected both the time and place. The 
men of Mecklenburg Declaration have as yet no monu- 
ment. Until the patriotic impulse inspired one man, 
whose enthusiasm inspired you, this sacred spot had no 
commemoration. Cross Creek and Moore Creek are yet 
without a stone.* The battle of the Regulators, where 
the first blood was shed for real liberty in America is un- 
marked and unsignified to the traveller. Da\-ic and Da- 
vidson and Shelby, Sevier, Cleveland, McDowell, Lilling- 
ton. Harnett, Moore, all sleep in gra\'es hallowed by pa- 
triotism, but unknown save only to private affection. We 
do not even sufficiently guard the traditions of their rep- 
utation, but leave incompetent or partial historians to 

*1 liis is incorrect, Theie 15 a monument :it Moore's Crt-ek, 


slur their deeds or scandalize their memories. This 
criminal negligence continues to this day. Some of the 
stories and misrepresentations concerning North Carolina 
troops in the late civil war are sufficiently scandalous to 
make the blood of every truth-loving man in the State 
boil with indignant heat. We should not, in silence, per- 
mit those misrepresentations. The honor of those who 
died for North Carolina should be as sacred to us as the 
virtue of our mothers. The thanks of our people are due 
to all those who have come forward to defend our coun- 
trymen and secure for them justice in history. Notable 
among those who have thus earned our gratitude I am 
glad to mention Judge David Schenck, Capt. W. R. 
Bond and Col. W. L. Sanders. The research and labor 
of these patriotic gentlemen have already visibly affected 
the tone of contemporary authors; and I beg to assure 
them of the appreciation of our countrymen. Of our 
abundance we should everywhere erect those lasting tes- 
timonials of our appreciation of all of our great and pa- 
triotic citizens. I repeat, it is due not so much to them 
as to ourselves. 

15ut there is hope for North Carolina worthies yet. 
Sixteen years before the birth of our Saviour there was 
born in the forests of Germany a child who was called 
Arminius; or as the German peasant loved to term him, 
Herman, Prince of the Cherusci. He conceived the idea 
of delivering his country from the dominion of the Ro- 
mans, then in the zenith of their power. Not far from 
the time when our Saviour was teaching upon the shores 
of Galilee, and healing the sick, this patriotic German de- 
coyed a Roman army into the morasses of his native 
country, and slaughtered it with such an overwhelming 
slaughter as rendered it impossible for the great Augus- 
tus ever again to conquer his countr\'. Nineteen hun- 
dred years thereafter the German people erected a statue 


in his honor. His example demonstrates that there is 
gratitude in mankind, though the proof was undoubtedly 
slow in coming. I trust that the people of North Caro- 
lina will not wait so long to do honor to those who 
served them and died for them in the hour of need. 




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